by Charles M. Bonanno
© Charles M. Bonanno -- all rights reserved
There's no two ways about it, having your brain stuffed into a tiny reptilian cranium is a lousy way to start a morning. And I certainly didn't need my old Pocket Cray(tm) to predict that things wouldn't be getting better any time soon.
My clawed hind feet had barely stumbled over the threshold of the Blind Pig Tavern when 'something' began chirping bloody murder deep within my mind.
As I turned in panic towards the open doorway, and the certain death that awaited me outside, I thought back on the circumstances that'd brought me to this point.
<Doctor Albright, here. I thought you weren't going to be so melodramatic this time.>
>Who's writing this thing, you or me?<
<It's all part of your required yearly evaluation, Mr. Goodyear. We make all our patients write about their first post-transformation day. If you want to get out of that cage, I expect to see some significant improvement in your attitude.>
>How about putting that cute little female with the blue-green tail in here with me? Sit down and watch and I'll show you some 'improvement' in my attitude!<
<It's not my job to play 'matchmaker' for our patients, Mr. Goodyear.>
>What the heck is your job? Can't you just leave me alone? Do you think I like writing about the day I turned into a friggin' lizard!?<
<It's standard procedure, Mr. Goodyear. We need to keep tabs on your mental state as required by Federal law.>
>And the best thing you can think of is making me re-write this damned mess every year? I've already written it as many ways as I know how What do you want me to do next, make it into a bloody Broadway musical?!<
<That's not a bad idea. I'll keep that in mind for next year. But for now just finish what you started. I'll be checking the computer log from time to time. Good day.>
>Damn overpriced vet! Probably couldn't get a 'real' medical license, so he takes it out on us!<
<I heard that!>
Migraines have been a factor in my life since my earliest teens, and this particular morning was no exception. Even weaving my way across a pitch-black room failed to qualify as anything remarkable, although I have to admit falling out of a hotel bed that felt ten feet high was something new.
Familiar with the after-effects of dozens of severe migraine attacks, and countless minor ones, I wasn't particularly surprised by my clumsiness or the peculiar sensations coming from my nearly fifty year old body.
Only seconds away from an embarrassing accident, and knowing how excruciatingly painful the first bright light I saw would be, I entered the dark bathroom and partially closed the door behind me. Feeling like I would burst any second, I prepared to take aim at where my sleep dulled senses claimed the toilet should be.
Or, at the very least, I tried to.
Not wishing to stain the cheap wallpaper anymore than it already was, I reached down to relieve the growing discomfort. However, try as hard as I might, I simply couldn't reach much lower than the middle of my stomach with either of my hands. The only thing I did accomplish with my frantic groping was to scrape my stomach painfully with my nails.
Cursing what I thought was yet another bout of bursitis, and promising to treat myself to a professional massage and manicure before this afternoon's director's meeting, I decided to let Mother Nature and the hotel's cleaning staff worry about my sense of direction.
"Hell," I thought to myself as I placed mental crosshairs where I hoped the porcelain bowl was located, "the next time I lock myself in a dark room I'm gonna make myself look like one of those Borg guys on the late-night reruns. I'll just scotch tape a friggin' laser pointer on the end of old stumpy before going to bed!"
Chuckling internally at the mental image of simultaneously pissing and phasing a toilet out of existence, I threw caution to the wind and waited for relief and the sound of splashing fluid.
A second later I froze in surprise as muscles and bones moved where none have ever been before. Something heavy attached to my rear had moved upwards and the sudden shift in mass was tipping me forward. I'd barely recovered my balance before a violent muscular contraction shook my entire body and the room filled with an overpowering stench.
"Damn it!" I screamed silently in my head. To do otherwise was far too embarrassing.
Proximity, rather than quality, had been the sole reason I'd picked the Hadeson Hotel when a sudden migraine attack forced me off the interstate far from home.
If truth be told, I barely remembered parking my car in the nearly empty lot before staggering blindly across the dingy lobby. By the time I reached the service desk I felt like my head was about to explode and splatter my brains all over the worn out carpeting.
Looking up for the first time, I nearly fell over backwards when I found myself nose to nose with the man-sized rat behind the counter. Misinterpreting my shocked silence, the 'thing' behind the counter repeated itself in its Mickey Mouse voice, "Good evening, Sir! And welcome to the Hadeson Hotel. My name is Frank. May I be of assistance?"
Turning around and going somewhere else simply wasn't an option at this point. I just waved the company's double iridium card over the desktop scanner and nearly yelled into the creature's whiskered face for the keys to the nearest windowless room. I might be dying on my feet, but there was no way on Earth that I'd reach into my wallet for cash and touch its paw with 'my' hand.
Despite the pain I waited with for nearly a minute before he got the hint and dropped the keys onto the scratched counter top. Grabbing them with a paper tissue I had in my pocket, I turned away without another word and went in search of my ground floor room.
And all this so I could soil myself like a senile old fool a few hours later!
As much as I wanted to scream and shout, I stood inside that reeking bathroom in total silence. Just the thought of letting the lowlifes behind the thin prefab walls know of my plight was more than I could bear.
Continuing my internal ranting.
"What the heck's wrong with me now? I only had a single rum n' coke last night after the sales meeting, and the valiums I took before I undressed and went to bed should've worn-off hours ago. I'll be damned if I'll start wearing a diaper at my age!"
Groping blindly along the doorframe I finally found the light switch and clicked it on. Why the idiots who'd built this place would place it so high on the wall was a mystery I'd have to complain to the management about later.
No matter what the future might bring, I will never forget the ear splitting clicks and hisses that burst from the jaws of the lizard staring back at me from that age spotted mirror. And, frankly, neither will any of the other hotel guests that'd been sleeping within a hundred yards just a moment before.
Still groggy from sleep, and long familiar with the surrealistic images that severe migraines had thrown at me in the past, I stared into the full length mirror mounted on the bathroom door and tried to blink my eyes in hopes that the image would go away.
It just got worse. A lot, lot worse.
Instead of the nearly imperceptible loss of vision that an eye blink creates, my vision was obscured for several seconds when the lizard shot out a huge pink tongue and wiped it over yellow tennis-ball sized eyes.
The reptile staring back at me with those immense lidless eyes was obviously a gecko... a Tokay gecko to be more precise. In fact, it looked almost exactly like those incredibly noisy and mean tempered lizards that I'd often seen during my many sales trips to South East Asia.
"I've just gotta be dreaming," I theorized as I examined the creature in the mirror. "and the migraine's dredging up junk from my subconscious! That thing's a carbon-copy of that little sucker I squashed in Singapore after it kept me up all night with its damned chirping!"
Discrepancies in this theory soon became apparent.
First: In comparison to a normal Tokay, this scaly horror was Godzilla and the Creature from the Black Lagoon rolled into one.. At best the average Tokay rarely exceeds fourteen inches in length, but what was staring back at me couldn't have been much shorter than five feet.
By human standards all four of its paws and limbs were tiny... and apparently getting smaller even as I watched. Outlined by a strange yellow-orange florescent glow, I watched as its body and limbs grew even smaller. Clearly never designed for bipedal motion, it had to lean back heavily on a thick muscular tail just to remain upright.
Second: Instead of the flat skull you'd expect to see when examining most lizards, this creature's head was a noticeably rounder. While nowhere near the size of a mammal's of equal size, the brain inside that slightly rounded dome had to be significantly larger than what a normal lizard would have... that is, a normal lizard that'd somehow grown to the height and weight of a human two-year-old.
Third: It was standing where I should be!
Hissing wordlessly, I bolted out the room and straight through the empty lobby in a blind panic. Moving as fast as my widely spaced and fairly rigid limbs would allow, I dragged my tail painfully across the hotel's cheap carpeting and out onto the even rougher concrete sidewalk outside.
An hour later the pale yellow Sun of approaching winter found me wandering the streets aimlessly. What few people were about just after sunrise did their best to ignore me. The handful I did approach either shook their heads as I hissed incomprehensibly at them, or hurriedly crossed the street when I crawled nearby.
Growing dangerously chilled, I could feel the primitive reptilian heart beating within my chest struggling to pump my rapidly cooling blood. What remained of my human consciousness dimmed as two hundred million year old instincts began to dominate in the struggle for survival.
No longer physically able to walk upright more than a few paces, I crawled near mindlessly down the sidewalks searching for any source of warmth. Pausing no more than a few seconds each time, I pressed my elongated torso against countless doors and parked cars seeking the heat that my body could no longer generate.
Time was running out fast.
If anything, this neighborhood was even more rundown than the hotel I'd just vacated. Most of the buildings and store fronts I passed had been derelict and boarded up for years; their doors no warmer than the concrete under my clawed hands and feet. Even if I could somehow manage to force my way into one of these buildings, I knew instinctively that they were all death traps. Within minutes of entering their frigid interiors I'd go into torpor and die shortly thereafter.
Salvation came in the form of a slammed door.
Far in the distance someone had closed a door and my unblinking eyes caught the movement instantly. Abandoning the meager warmth of a recently driven car, I shot out from underneath the fuel cell compartment and sped down the street in a blur of green and orange scales.
In a matter of seconds I was staring at the reptilian equivalent of the Pearly Gates. The owner of this door had plainly never felt the need to obey the Federal government's mandatory energy conservation guidelines. The heavily scarred door almost glowed from the heat escaping from within.
Whatever the risk. whatever the danger. the bundle of primal instincts that had overridden my human intellect would not be denied.
It ... I ... would get my share of this heat or die in the attempt.
Crawling forward with the last dregs of its rapidly diminishing strength, the lizard that I'd become suddenly stopped in confusion just out of reach of the door. Simply put, what little remained of my human personality had refused to let itself be seen crawling about on all fours.
Jerked upright into a semi-horizontal posture by short but powerful forelimbs, I finished the journey in two short steps and the door had a new permanent ornament: me.
Despite its appearance, my new body was far too heavy to climb a wall or crawl across a ceiling. But anyone trying to extract my claws from this wooden door would soon have a major engineering task on their hands, and, not to mention, a few less fingers.
I must confess that I'd never given much thought to addiction until I found myself clinging to a door for dear life. Sure, I've drunk my fair share of spirits. show me someone who has to wheel and deal in the business world who claims he never drinks and I'll show you a compulsive liar. but drug abuse in general has never entered my life. Watching too many relatives and friends throw away their lives made sure of that.
Yet, only the most desperate of heroin or brain stim addicts could even begin to understand the pleasure I was getting from this door. In another life, in my human life, the contents of an entire pharmacy wouldn't have come close.
Even my ex-wife, surely if not the anti-Christ's sister a very close relative.may the bank where she keeps all my alimony checks go bankrupt. never came close in twenty years of marriage. Only now can I understand why so many cold-blooded creatures cook themselves alive if its cold and they get access to an artificial heat source.
And having just joined their ranks I was fully prepared to stay stuck to this door till the end of time, or until I died, whichever came first.
So as I tried to absorb every last iota of heat seeping through the wooden panels, I had time to stare at the sign creaking in the wind above my head.
And what a sign it was.
The creator had undoubtedly been a gifted artist, a talented humorist, and a seriously disturbed psychotic all rolled into one strange package. Using nearly every clashing color in the spectrum, whomever had designed and painted this sign had gone way overboard.
Repeatedly, and with growing frequency, my bright pink tongue flickered out to soothe my smarting eyes; a reflexive action that did little to bring meaning to the symbols and numbers I could no longer decipher.
Only vaguely clearer was the cartoon-ish figure portrayed in the middle. But what could it possibly mean? What significance did a smiling two-legged anthropomorphic pig have to do with anything. especially when it had an overflowing mug in each hoof-like hand, and a blindfold over its eyes?
But these questions would have to wait for some other time: the door was opening!
<Sorry to interrupt again, Mr. Goodyear.>
>No problem, I needed a break anyway. I was getting sick and tired of hearing my own voice. The feedback from the voder built into this cage is awful. Can't you do something about the audio link?<
<Not my department, I'm afraid. I'll make a note for the computer maintenance people to look into it.>
>That's what you said yesterday.<
<They're real busy, Mr. Goodyear. They'll get around to it as soon as they can.>
>I promise I won't bite anyone who puts their hands in here.<
<That's what 'you' said yesterday.>
>That wasn't my fault! Can't people read anymore? Just because my eyes are open that doesn't mean I'm awake. They ignored the sign that says 'DON'T TAP ON GLASS!' and scared the shit out of me... literally! I almost cracked my skull open when I woke up and ran into the side of the cage!<
<That's not what they said.>
>Who ya' gonna believe... two apprentice pill pushers taking a wacky weed break in the Scaly House of Horrors, or a lizard in a glass box?>
<The 'Scaly House of Horrors'?>
>You kidding? That's the nicest thing most norms say about this ward. If I had a deci-credit for everyone who waltzes in here and stares at us I'd be a millionaire!>
<I'll put a stop to it.>
>Don't forget and do it soon. You won't be liking it either.<
<What's 'that' suppose to mean?>
>Oh, nothing. Slip of the voder. What did you want anyway?>
<By any chance, did you happen to see my new pet kitten? He got loose yesterday and a nurse said she saw him roaming around the herpetology ward.>
>Let me think back... midnight black fur with bright green eyes and rather plump?<
<That's him. Did you see him?>
>Nope. Sorry. Lucky guess.<
<Drat! I'll just have to keep looking.>
>Good luck... buurrppp! Excuse me!<
In motion before what passed for my mind could record this fact, the dominant lizard portion of my awareness took little notice of the two indistinct shapes crowding the door frame. Ignoring their pained protests, it stomped on their furry paws with its sharp claws as it raced into the heated room and collapsed prone to the floor.
Instincts are one of Nature's most powerful tools. On a purely genetic level they allow the most successful of each generation to insure the survival of the next as time and opportunities change.
Without that lapine's tireless efforts I see no way I could've avoided that horrible fate. After hearing about the terrible thing I'd done that day, city health officials would've dumped my tail into a terrarium somewhere and thrown away the key.
Yet, even now, years and years later, I look back and have only one oh-so-private comment to make about what I did: It felt so damned good!!!
I can still feel the adrenaline rush as Darkwolf leaned forward and growled at me. Whether or not his intention was just to scare me I've never had the opportunity to ask, but in a single bound I leaped off my furry perch and clamped my widespread jaws around his entire muzzle.
Talk about noise!
The room went wild as he staggered around blindly with me hanging on like some scaly alien face-hugger. Unable to breathe or pull me off without my teeth slashing his face to ribbons, he began to wave his paws towards the crowd trying to summon aid. Clearly an act of desperation that did little but increase the volume of laughter echoing around the room.
Just as he was about to pass out from lack of oxygen, my erstwhile perch came to his rescue when he walked around the bar and gently pried my jaws apart. After wagging a thick horn-covered finger disapprovingly in front of my nose, my bovine host gently replaced me atop his head and returned to his station behind the bar without saying a word.
Wheezing badly and rubbing his much abused muzzle, Darkwolf glared first at me and than at the entire room. If looks could kill the nearest undertaker would've soon have had enough business to send his kids to college. twice!
Suddenly the laugher and heckling disappeared as the floor began to tremble underfoot. Rising effortlessly from a rear booth, a huge misshapen shadow crossed the packed room accompanied only by rasping sound of a heavy tail being scraped across a wooden floor.
Entering the spotlight shinning down in front of the bar, an extremely tall crocodile morph lowered his arm's-length jaws towards one of the wolf headed guy's furry ears.
Nodding once in agreement, Darkwolf held perfectly still as my slobber was wiped away with some paper napkins and his wrinkled suit was brushed smooth by a few dexterous swipes of the reptile man's immense webbed paws.
Still acting the role of the faithful manservant attending to the needs of a demanding master, the crocodile morph escorted Darkwolf to a nearby chair to recover from my attack. Spinning around with much the grace of a hundred ton Schwarzkopf front-line battle tank, he rested his tail upon the floor and began to speak in a low and nearly emotionless tone.
"Let's continue, shall we?"
You could've heard a pin drop in the minute or two it took for all this to occur. Despite his air of influence and power, few in the bar seemed to care much for this so-called Darkwolf. However, this still nameless reptile morph had no such trouble.
In a rumbling tone that masked any clue to his emotional state, this equally well dressed behemoth began to speak in a hoarse whisper that carried easily into every corner of the silent room.
For when Death talks... people listen.
Don't get me wrong. Not once did he ever raise his voice or make a single hostile gesture towards anyone. Seemingly unaware of the frightening appearance of his massive frame, the words emerging from those toothy jaws were those of an intellect vast in knowledge and refinement.
Yet, to be perfectly candid, it wouldn't have mattered in the slightest if he'd looked like a human norm or a full blooded Chihuahua. Despite the polish of his speech and manners, everyone in that room knew that they were in the presence of a remorseless and expedient evil. So it wasn't surprising that few people dared question or interrupt as he began to speak.
"China, as you all know, closed its borders soon after the virus hit. For over two decades now they've done little but re-arm their military and issue daily condemnations against us in the UN General Assembly for bringing the Martian Flu Virus to Earth.
Anyone trying to enter their country simply 'disappears.' Anyone trying to leave is killed, period. At present we know very little about conditions deep within the country except for anecdotal stories of extreme brutality and repression. Our security agencies have managed to acquire very little hard data from 'covert' sources, but it appears likely that are presently experiencing the same kind of internal troubles that brought down the Soviet bloc.
However, unlike the old Soviet Empire, they've managed to hold their satellite states by fostering fears that we purposefully unleashed the virus to undermine their communist state. And, that even now, we're genetically engineering even worse viruses to use against them in the future. Any questions so far?"
It took several seconds, but someone did eventually break the silence.
Waving his arms and showering everyone underneath with a nacho and cheese puff crumbs, a mid degree lemur morph yelled down from a rafter far overhead.
At that time the human norms and Scabs filling the bar were complete strangers to me. I simply couldn't tell if the lemur's bravado was behavior common to his morph species, or simply a factor of his present out-of-reach location.
But after hearing the dark rumors and unverifiable stories whispered about this odd couple, Darkwolf and Dr. Jerome Standards, I'm certain that there's a much simpler reason: stupidity.
"Meep! Up here, Doc! It me, Robby Ringtail. I hear ya' and I'm sorry for what's going on over there. Meep! But what's all that to do with us?"
The tall crocodilian needed but a few floor jarring steps to reach a spot directly underneath the inquisitive lemur. With his jaws pointing nearly straight up, the Scab with the unimaginative name had a perfect view of the seemingly bottomless void within.
"How about a eight million man standing army, Mr. Larson? Or a military budget that's three times greater than what we can presently afford? And there's always the little matter of. we estimate. about three hundred nuclear intercontinental missiles they're aiming at us?"
Shocked speechless that someone like Doctor Standards had felt the need to uncover his pre-Scabs name, the lemur morph stared down in wide-eyed terror as the crocodile morph continued speaking.
"At present our resources are overextended. Just maintaining a few vital economic slash political ties with friendly allies is proving to be extremely difficult. And, what's worse, we're getting precious little co-operation within the United Nations. China has been very effective in fanning a fairly widespread distrust of the USA into outright hatred.
Does that answer your question... or would you like me come over to your apartment on seventh street and have me clarify it to you in greater detail?"
<Have you been messing with the environmental controls?!>
<Don't play innocent! A terminal link like the one in your cage was used to activate the heating system! It's the middle of July and the furnace is going full blast! We just went passed a hundred and fifteen degrees in the Herp ward!>
>You don't say? No wonder I feel so good. Can you keep it there?<
<No we can't! I just put the entire air conditioning and heating system on manual control. The computerized comm and data entry systems will still work, but nothing else. Is that clear?>
>Crystal, Doc. Talk to ya' later!<
>Oh, well.. aiming ... at least one twenty, I got... close...<
<You say something, Mr. Goodyear?>
>Just thinking out loud and the voder picked it up, Doctor Albright. I just wondering how many pages it would take to finish this story.<
After a few seconds of silence the lemur morph replied, "That... that won't be necessary! Meep! Meep! Meep! It's all... Meep!... it's all crystal clear to me now!"
What's not so well known is what he said after Doctor Standards spun around and returned to the bar. Only a few people directly underneath caught his frightened mumbling and they all nodded their heads in silent agreement.
'Damn! How did Bone Cruncher learn my real name? Meep! I haven't used it for over six Meep! years! I've gotta pack my bags and move out tonight!"
"Very well, lets continue." Doctor Standards announced as he swung his massive head from side to side. "If there's anyone out there who has another question, now's the time to speak up."
Clearly not expecting any further interruptions, he opened his jaws as he prepared to continue his dialogue from where it'd broken off. But before the first word could escape that cavernous throat and tooth lined maw, the same woman who'd stuck her snake's tongue at me raised her hand and waved it to attract his attention.
I almost missed her question as I stared in rapt fascination at her mouth. 'Where'd she hide that tongue?' I asked myself. Except for a hungry looking Owl morph staring down from the rafters at the pigeon guy, my huge eyes must've had the best night vision in the place and I couldn't find it. All I could see was a normal human tongue as she lowered her arm and began to speak.
"Good evening, Doctor Standards. I hate to interrupt, but I'd like an answer to my question if you'd please."
"And what question would that be, dear lady?"
"Why are 'we' going to be seeing this? Like Robert said, it's none of our business what happens over there. Or is it?"
Doctor Standards appeared to be ponder the question. Slowly he turned his head sideways and fixed an unreadable reptilian orb and slit pupil directly upon the woman before replying.
"Did you happen to read yesterday's newspaper? Do you know what's scheduled for Monday next week in Vancouver, Canada?"
"Yes, I did. I believe there was something on page one about China hosting the next meeting of the World Trade Organization, and..."
"Exactly!" he interrupted with a thunderous clash of his jaws.
"And we... principally the United States... are going to get, in the words of our top negotiators... 'our clocks cleaned!' What they've never been able to do militarily, China is going to achieve by having economic sanctions imposed upon us after 'spontaneous' protests and riots disrupt the next round of WTO negotiations.
Using their positions as a 'victims' of American biological warfare, China and their allies are going to take this opportunity to unite much of the Third World against us.
Think about it, dear lady. We will be cut off from much of the foreign resources we need. No commerce and little trade besides the humanitarian basics which we will have to pay for in gold bullion. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, will be coming into our ports without their approval. We'll be totally at their mercy."
"But surely we're going to do something to stop this!" the woman known by the odd name 'Splendor' replied. Getting no immediate reply she turned her head and looked towards the wolf morph who's quietly dabbing iodine on the many tiny scratches my teeth had made on his muzzle.
"Of course we will. Let me explain..."
Over the next thirty minutes or so the crocodilian did exactly that. In excruciating detail he chronicled the legal, and not so legal, political maneuverings that'd preceded this year's meeting of the World Trade Organization.
Just as he'd begun to describe the UN Secretary General's failure to stop a near-riot on the floor of the General Assembly, when a couple paws rose in the air holding empty glasses. Without missing a single word the huge reptilian nodded his head in a dismissive gesture and waved a webbed paw over his shoulder.
Vacating their front row seats, two Scabs walked towards the bar and the bartender who's already preparing to refill their drinks.
No... let me clarify that last statement... only one of the two approaching the bar was actually walking.
With an Elvis-style swagger a tall lupine strode forward with a jet black cloak hanging from his shoulders. To my eye, he's either an actor with the over-inflated ego that goes with the job description, or just an over grown kid that'd always wanted to dress up like Bela Lugosi.
The other one probably hadn't walked on two legs in quite a while.
Moving swiftly and easily on all fours, a huge rabbit bounded past the wolf man in two short hops and landed atop a barstool. Taking the handle of a strange looking mug out of his mouth, he pushed it towards the bartender who carried it away.
Barely looking in my direction, the pure white furred rabbit man twitched his nose madly as if smell had taken priority over his sense of sight. Only with the arrival of his companion did he look up and lock eyes with me.
"A friend of yours, Phil?" the lupine asked as he took the adjacent bar stool.
"Never seen him before, Wanderer. But I'll wager the next round of drinks that he hasn't been like this for more than a couple hours."
"That's a good one. You're joking... aren't you? You're telling me you can tell what sex that thing is, and how long its been since it morphed? Since when did you become an expert herpetologist? Or are you just hiding a portable cat scan machine under all that fur?"
The lapine replied with a little smile and a single twitch of his pink nose but says nothing else.
"Okay, smarty. Prove it." the wolf morph demanded as he unconsciously brought his ears forward and tilted his head to the side in the manner of an inquisitive canine.
"Thanks, Donnie. That looks delicious!" the rabbit said as the bartender approached with a two-handled mug filled with an orange colored concoction.
Reaching out with both paws, the high degree rabbit morph managed with some difficulty to grasp each oversized handle and bring it up towards his muzzle. After a tiny sip the rabbit licked its split upper lip and carefully deposited the mug back onto the bar top.
In answer to the wolf morph's question, the lapine pointed his nose in my direction once more, "Go ahead. Take a good whiff and tell me what you smell."
"Oh... no! Not this time! I'm not falling for one of your jokes. I'm not putting my muzzle anywhere near that scaly menace. It probably has a taste for canines by now!"
"Come on. You know I couldn't hurt a fly! You'll be fine as long as you don't touch him. He's still a bit skittish, but I don't think he'll lose control again."
"It's not you I'm worried about!" the wolf morph replied as he happened to catch me opening my jaws in a wide yawn. The rows of sharp teeth within my mouth seemed to be cause his some discomfort.
Standing up slowly from his chair, he leaned over and inhaled several times sharply. As his leathery nose twitched, I noticed that he was keeping his right paw poised to come to its defense if I twitched so much as a single muscle.
"Well, that was a waste of time."
"You didn't smell it?"
"Smell what? It smells like a lizard. What did you expect it to smell like, a horse?"
"Cologne! He's wearing men's cologne!" the rabbit replied as he buried his nose deep into the mug once more.
"This is real good stuff, Wanderer. You should try some. I even think this last batch has begun to ferment a little. It has a kick you wouldn't believe!"
"No thanks. I'll leave the carrot juice to you if you don't mind. But what's this about cologne?"
"Tsk, tsk... and you call yourself a canine!" the rabbit replied in a mock disparaging tone.
"If that nose of yours was even half as good as you claimed, you'd notice a strong scent of Old Spice aftershave on our toothy friend. I'm only guessing here, but I doubt if a man-made perfume will get him much action on the reptilian dating scene."
"Is that it?"
"Well, there is one more thing." the rabbit morph replied after he licked the bottom of his mug dry.
"It's practically suicide for an ectotherm to go out alone on a cold morning like this without some kind of thermal protection; especially one as small as he is. He's lucky a stray dog or cat didn't turn him into breakfast.
By the way, I think you're going to have to order another drink."
Irritated that neither one had bothered to talk to me directly, I'd taken their distraction as the perfect opportunity to get myself something to drink. After crawling down from my host's head, I traveled across his shoulder and down his right arm. In a single fluid motion I leaped off and plunged my head into the wolf morph's glass.
Fortunately for me the drink contained nothing that would harm my sensitive reptilian innards. Not that it mattered much to me at that moment. If you took my reduced size into account, the beer mug I'd stuck my head into contained the equivalent of several gallons of non alcoholic ginger ale. It'd be a close race to see if I'd reach the bottom before I drowned.
I was well past the half way point before the rabbit noticed what I was doing and elbowed his drinking buddy in the ribs. With a deep sigh the wolf pointed a clawed finger at me as he waved his other paw at the bartender.
"Donnie, do you have the book handy? And I'll be needing another drink, please."
With my head still deep under the amber fluid, I watched as the bartender rubbed two of his huge fingers together.
"No problem. Just put my thirsty friend's drink on my tab too."
With a loud snort the bartender swung his horned head from side to side and repeated the finger rubbing gesture. From the look in his eyes he's seriously annoyed about something.
Grumbling under his breath, the wolf morph reached into his jacket and extracted several crumbled bills. With the reluctance of someone handing over their entire life's savings he passed the cash over.
After tucking the money into his shirt pocket, the bartender dropped a tattered book onto the bar top and swung around to prepare the new drink.
Whispering so low that even I could barely hear him from just inches away the rabbit asked, "Why the big production about paying your tab. You go through the same routine each time. I know you made a bundle under the table with your last stage gig."
"Keep it bloody down, will you!" the wolf replied with an English accent so obviously fake that if it were money he'd be going to jail for counterfeiting.
"My bleedin' agent follows me around like a shadow! He could be hiding out there right now looking for his cut on anything I make. Why, oh why didn't I read the fine print on his contract! If I didn't know better I'd swear that Marty was part tick!"
"Actually he is, " the rabbit replied in a oft handed manner before continuing in an equally false exasperated tone, "but don't look at me! Didn't I tell you to let me read a copy of that contract before you signed it? It'll be another year before it expires!"
With a deep sigh, Wanderer began to thumb through a thick book titled 'A Child's Picture Book of Animal Life on Planet Earth, Five Billion years of Evolution and Counting.' The fact that his thumb is more dewclaw than digit made the searching rather slow.
Published long before the turn of the century, it's fair to assume that the original author had never dreamed that his book would someday sit in a bar thirty years hence. Nor is it likely that he would've believed the matter-of-fact information that someone else had hand-typed and glued within its pages.
That his book would one day be held in the paw-like extremities of a wolf-human hybrid, rather than those of a curious young child, is even less likely to have been imagined by the long dead author.
After a couple of minutes, Wanderer found the correct spot and began to read just loud enough for his furry companion to hear.
"With the possible exception of high degree insectoids, lower order reptilian morph victims tend to suffer most at the hands of the Martian flu virus. Highest degree reptiloids often have their sentience either totally supplanted or severely constrained by instinctive behaviors.
Even in cases where human reason has been retained, it is common for victims locked in near animal norm bodies to undergo periodic 'fugue' episodes whereupon they act upon, and/or subsequently rationalize their primitive impulses.
Much in the manner of a human suffering from MPD, or multiple personalities disorder, they may retain all of their pre-Scabs knowledge and personality but be unable to restrain themselves if exposed to stimuli specific to their species type.
Note: see dinosauroids and crocodilians."
"Is there anything else?" Phil asks as he partially climbed onto the bar top and stared down at the page.
"Pretty much. But look here... is that him?"
Picking the book off the counter, Wanderer held it open for the lapine to examine. Covering much of the page was a color photograph of a large Tokay with its jaws clamped onto a human finger. From the twisted smile on his face, the owner of that mangled digit was not enjoying his moment of fame in front of the camera.
"What does the picture caption say?"
Holding the book close to his muzzle, Wanderer struggled to read the time faded print in the bar's dim lighting.
"Tokay lizard. Large, noisy, and aggressive. Males extremely territorial. Feeds on small mammals, insects, arthropods, and careless cameramen. Look but do not touch."
"He's got that right!" the rabbit morph exclaimed as he watched me staring back at him through the glass walls of the empty mug.
Knocking over the mug as I pulled my head out, I licked up the small amount I'd spilt outside before deciding that it's time to introduce myself. Crawling forward with the ale sloshing around inside, I stopped just out of reach of the tallest one.
Uncertain of my intentions, they both leaned back in their chairs as if preparing for a sudden departure. After several tense seconds the rabbit broke the ice.
"Good... morning. My... name... is... Phil." he announced in a slow and calm tone as he poked himself in the chest with a blunt paw. "And... this... is... my... friend, Wanderer. What's... your... name?"
'Name?' I repeated to myself as I searched and searched for the answer. 'Yes, I remember it now. My name is...' TO-kay!' "
Several times more I repeated my name with no better results. I could hear it clearly within my mind but I'm was unable to speak it out loud. With each new attempt I felt myself getting angrier, and my "TO-kay's!" got loud enough to cause the crocodile morph to stop talking and look in our direction.
Suddenly, without any memory on how I got there, I'm clinging head down on the back of the bartender's shirt. What I do remember clearly is two cold crocodilian eyes fixed firmly upon us. The only thing that truly amazed me was that the wolf and rabbit weren't back here with me.
A second later I'm shaking my head like mad trying to dislodge the object that'd just been stuck onto it.
Demonstrating a remarkable degree of flexibility, Donnie the bartender had twisted his torso around without warning. Before I could react the croc had reached into his pocket and extracted something small and shiny. After peeling a piece of tape off one side, his huge paw had darted out and pressed it upon my skull.
The unnatural sensation and uninvited contact were more than enough to provoke an immediate retaliatory response. In other words, I bit him. Several times. Hard.
I truly doubt that he even felt my teeth digging into his thick skin. He just walked away and continued to speak to the packed room as if nothing unusual had occurred. But deep down a part of my mind was overjoyed to see a tiny spot of blood seeping to the surface of his right paw's index finger.
As I calmed down the rabbit guy leaned forward over the bar and brought his pink nose up close. After examining the coin sized object from several angles, he sat straight up on his haunches and slapped his forepaws together three times in rapid succession.
After a little crackle of static and feedback the tiny device began to hum quietly to itself. Whatever it was, it was sending strange, but oddly pleasurable, vibrations through the bones in my neck and skull. It actually felt like I had a vibrating telephone beeper glued to my head and someone was making a call.
>Geez, what now?<
<I'll have you know that you insulted my fiancée!>
>You'll have to be more specific than that, doc! I've insulted lots of people in my time.<
<You... you... insufferable scaly piece of...>
>Lets not get personal, Doctor Albright. You don't want me reporting you to the Scab Anti-Defamation League, do you?<
<Okay! Fine! Could you... please... tell me what you said to Nurse Joy that upset her so much?>
>Nurse Joy is your fiancee? Really? HaHaHaHa!<
<What's so damned funny?>
<You'd better tell me what you said, or I'm coming up there are pulling the plug on your heated rock!>
>No! Please! Anything but that! I... LOVE... my rock!<
>Okay, since you're asking so nicely. Joy almost tore my tail off when he picked me up to clean out the cage. I called him the worst nurse that I'd ever seen!>
<I'll have you now that Joy is highly trained and... what did you just say?>
>I said, 'that he was the worst nurse that I'd ever seen.'<
<What's this 'he' business?>
>I'd rather not say.<
<You'd better tell me now or it's off to the Arctic Ward for you!>
>Very well. If you insist. Nurse Joy is a guy. A male. A part time carrier of the XY gene. A former son of Adam 'and' a daughter of Eve. An expired card carrying member of the of the standup and piss club. A... <
<STOP RIGHT THERE! ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT I'M ENGAGED TO A MAN?!>
>Like we use to say when I was a kid... DUH!<
<But... but how?! How could you tell?>
>Liver and onions. Fried chicken and garlic bread. Caesar salad with olive oil vinaigrette. Beef ribs with honey barbecue sauce. Ham and Swiss on rye with lots of Mayo. Pizza with... YUCK!... anchovies et. et. et.<
<What 'are' you talking about? That sounds like stuff I ate last week.>
>Exactly! I'm a lizard, remember? I couldn't stop myself from tasting you and your clothing when you examined me yesterday. You'd be amazed what my little tongue can detect. Real amazed.<
<So when Joy picked you up...?>
>BINGO! WE HAVE A WINNER! GIVE THE GUY ENGAGED TO A SEVENTY YEAR OLD GENDERMORPH A CIGAR!<
<Seventy year old...?>
>Yep! At least seventy or seventy five. I'd say Grandpa spends as much time as he possibly can in that twenty year old female body. Not that I blame him... the strain those melons put on that nurse's blouse must be off the Richter scale!<
<You mean I had...? You telling me that I...?>
>Not a pretty picture, is it?<
>Doc? Where'd ya' go?<
>Yo! Doctor Albright! You still there?<
>Ah, peace and quiet. Maybe now I can finish this thing.>
"Can you understand me?" the rabbit inquired with an anxious look in his pink eyes.
The only answer he got was two loud 'TO-Kays!' blasted into his huge ears at close range. One came from my jaws, the other came a fraction of a second later from a speaker grill located on the upper surface of the tiny device.
"I don't think anyone's home, Phil." the wolf morph commented sadly.
I couldn't tell if he was more concerned about my mental state or how the rabbit would react to my apparent lack of sentience. From what little I could read on his rabbit-ish features, he was taking it very hard indeed.
"Let me try, Phil. I've got an idea."
Stretching out his arm, the lupine snagged a large bowl filled with brown pellets and pushed it towards me. Still weary after my encounter with the other canine, I responded in typical Tokay fashion: I opened my mouth wide and did several high-speed pushups before spinning around and jumping back onto the barkeep.
A deep bellowing sigh greeted my return and I was plucked off the white shirt by an enormous hoof-like hand. Carefully, but firmly, I'm pinned to the bar top as the other hand begins to wave and twist its fingers inches from my nose.
What message those twirling digits were trying to convey was a total mystery to me. If I'd ever understood American sign language that knowledge was lost to me now. However, what immediately followed left little room for misinterpretation.
After taping a bone-hard fingertip on the polished wood counter, the bartender lifted his heavy right hand and slammed it down next to my head. The meaning behind this gesture was crystal clear... jump on him again and the next thing he'd be cleaning off the bar would be my flattened remains.
Not knowing if the threat was for real, or just a less than subtle warning, I decided to remain put as the wolf guy pushed the bowl towards me again. As he did so, he spoke softly in a cadence even slower than what the rabbit had used previously.
"Go... ahead. Take... some. They're... real... good!"
More than a little insulted by being spoken to in this manner, I nonetheless inched my way forward and stuck the tip of my tongue into the bowl.
I didn't have the foggiest idea what these brown pellets might be, but my reptilian senses had only one comment to make... FOOD!!! I immediately submerged my head and scattered much of the contents about in my haste to bolt it all down.
I'm nearing the bottom when the wolf morph leaned over and whispered into one of my ear holes, "How do you like the kibble?"
Take it from me, watching a monitor-sized lizard trying to upchuck a half pound of ginger ale soaked dog food is 'not' a pretty sight. Especially when hard-wired instincts are fighting tooth-and-claw to shovel it all back inside.
As I repeatedly tried to turn myself inside out, I overheard the lupine triumphantly announce to his furry companion, "See that? I know a few tricks too, Phil."
"Okay, Wanderer. So you've proved that he's sentient. But do you think you can clean up the mess before Donnie gets here and shoves that bowl down your throat?"
Before he can even begin to ask the meaning behind his cryptic comment, a white towel and a large bottle of disinfectant comes sliding down the bar and stops next to the disgusting mess that I'd just made.
Turning his muzzle in the direction from whence they'd traveled, Wanderer is confronted by a terrifying sight.
Deep in the shadows at the other end of the bar, two large bovine eyes were staring back with murder in their depths. Silent but for the disquietingly similar sounds of thigh bones being crushed, Donnie the bartender is cracking his knuckles as if preparing to do something far more strenuous than just making drinks.
With a speed that would get him a job in any bar in the city, Wanderer cleaned up the mess and polished the surface to a brilliant shine. For good measure he even picked me up and gave me a once over with the towel.
Luckily for him, I was still incapacitated by my gastronomic ordeal.
At that particular moment, I couldn't even begin to think of an appropriate reward for being the victim of his humor, nor could I force myself to reply physically to his impudence in touching me unbidden... a minor oversight that the human and reptile facets of my personality cooperatively planned to remedy as soon as possible.
(Mental note to self: Check diary. Was it six or seven stitches they put in Wanderer's leg the day after they discharged me from the hospital?)
Suddenly a harsh rasping voice called out, "If you two are finished, how about picking up your new friend and re-taking your seats?"
Somehow, with an agility he'd never displayed before, the immense crocodile morph had managed to sneak up on the pair without making the slightest sound or vibration.
That he could manage this feat despite a wolf morph's highly tuned senses was remarkable; that he could likewise prevail over those of a lapine's ultra-sensitive senses was more than vaguely disquieting.
Yet another alarming ability that few in the room failed to make note of.
Showing a considerable degree of pre-cognitive psychic ability, the wolf morph grabbed his drink and stepped away leaving the lapine to deal with me.
For several seconds I looked into those pink eyes and pondered my next move. Unfortunately, neither of my two personalities had much to say about rabbits.
On a practical level, Tokays had stored little data in their genes on how to react to lapines. Except for the usual precautions to be taken around creatures so much larger than themselves, my lizard-ish side drew a blank on how to deal with them. Rabbits had simply made very little impact on their evolution.
My human memories were almost as bad.
Excluding the occasional well-seasoned dinner entree, I too had little background experience to recall about these creatures... and that went double for a Great Dane sized rabbit that could probably stomp the living daylights out of most things trying to eat him.
So I left it up to the brain behind that furry face to think of a way to break the impasse once more.
Demonstrating either a great deal of courage, or a lack of common sense, the rabbit morph bounded completely atop the bar and squatted down just inches from my jaws. In my present agitated state it was all I can do to keep myself from lashing out.
Clue-less as to his intentions, I just looked up at his... to me... bear sized head and awaited for him to enlighten me. Almost immediately he did so.
"How about a ride? Climb on and I'll carry you to our table."
Taking my lack of movement as reluctance he upped the ante.
"You'll be safe with me. I'll protect you from Wanderer and Doctor Standards."
Still nothing. At this point I'm far too confused by a litany of alien reptilian thoughts/emotions screaming for attention within my brain:
Prey? Too large... danger... move away!
Mate? Wrong scent... no/wrong scale/color pattern... move away!
Rival? Can't detect female... nothing to fight for... move away!
Defend territory? No scent markings... not my space... move away!
Thinking rapidly the rabbit threw down his trump card.
"I'm real warm... oomph!"
He'd barely begun the sentence before I leaped onto his back and anchored all twenty of my tiny claws into his fur. I could feel him flinch as several scratched the sensitive skin underneath, but he bore the discomfort silently fearing than any loud noise would spook me into scampering off again.
As the wolf morph lead the way, he gingerly clambered down onto the nearest bar stool. From there he hopped to the floor and slowly made his way back to his table.
Or, should I say, under it.
Rather than take the chance that a nearby bar patron might provoke me into flight, the rabbit backed into a large cardboard box filled with cutup pieces of newspaper. I didn't know who needed the comfort of that small enclosed space more, me or him, but for the first time since I entered the bar I felt safe.
As he squatted down and made himself comfortable, I watched through the opening as Doctor Standards declared, "And that brings us up to the present, Splendor."
"Thank you, Doctor. But you've yet to say how we're involved."
"Oh, yes... let me explain." the croc morph replied as he turned and pointed a huge clawed digit at the television set.
"As Darkwolf was saying before he was 'interrupted', Mr. Sinclair was gracious enough to invite you all here at our request.
In a few minutes a highly sensitive and encrypted broadcast will be sent to from an uplink station somewhere in Szechwan Province. Due to China's great size, this transmission will be relayed along a complex series satellite uplink stations before it reaches the offices of high ranking party and military officers around the country.
The nearest of those stations to China's border with India is going to experience... technical difficulties. By sheer coincidence it's going to transmit an unencrptyed broadcast directly into the European Satellite Grid for worldwide dispersion in approximately two hours and thirteen minutes from now."
"Coincidence?" Splendor asks incredulously.
"That's correct." the crocodile morph answers as he removes red plastic folder from within his jacket and fans through its pages.
Waving them at Darkwolf he asked, "Must I read these names?"
The wolf morph replied, "Don't blame me, they weren't my idea."
Clearing a throat wide enough to swallow an entire Thanksgiving turkey, Doctor Standards continued.
"A unknown undercover agent... designation: The Big Bad Wolf... managed to cross the border and survive. He reported that the satellite station... designation: Grandma's House... was in terrible shape. No one had serviced its outmoded computerized equipment in a long time.
As a gesture of international goodwill, this nameless agent made a few software modifications and backup copies of their security codes to take away for safekeeping.
When the broadcast reaches this repeater station the computer will record, decode, and rebroadcast it twice. The first signal will be re-crypted and sent here, that is, the USA, in a little over three minutes. The second will reach a far wider audience when an unencrypted signal bounces off Eurostar Two... and that's where you all come in!"
With a thunderous slap of his tail against the wooden bar, everyone, human norms and Scabs alike, jumps to attention. Even those no longer able to sit upright in a chair lean back on their cushions or haunches and do likewise.
"My function this morning is to watch you."
More than a few throats swallow dryly as their owners take this statement personally and at face value.
"What you are about to witness should cause the collapse of the Chinese hegemony. If all goes well, they will be far too busy explaining themselves before the General Assembly to bother us for decades.
As fellow Scabs, and interested individuals, I felt that you would appreciate being among the first to witness this broadcast and participate in this historic event. I, personally, have seen only fragmentary images of several similar transmissions. The only word I can use to describe them is... unsettling.
On your tables you will find pencils and notepads. Feel free to take notes and jot down any comments you might have regarding this broadcast. For those among us who are physically unable to write, there are several sound activated digital recorders available for use after it's finished.
Your comments will be tabulated along with those of several other focus groups around the country. This data used to formulate the president's speech when he goes on television later today. If you have any reservations about viewing this broadcast, now is the moment to leave and no one will think..."
"Hi, doc? Back so soon? What happened? Is it that time of the month for Joy?"
"That's it! It's off the furthest and coldest zoo I can find for you!"
"Let me guess... you're not going to invite me to be the best man to your wedding?"
"Very funny! The damned thing's off! Just you wait, I hope they feed you to a snake when you get to Alaska! Take this, Mr. Funny!"
"HEY! Don't hit the cage! I'm fragile! And this is the gratitude I get for trying to help you?!"
"Help me? Help me! You're a bloody menace! If it weren't against the law I would've stuck you in a bottle of formaldehyde years ago!"
"I bet you say that to all your friends!"
"HEY! DON'T DO THAT! You're not gonna like it when someone bangs 'your' cage!"
"I give a damn what you're talking about! I've got a pounding headache, my stomach is doing flip-flops, and my feet are killing me! I'm going to go home and hope you're long gone before I return tomorrow!"
"But you 'are' home, doc!"
"I don't live anywhere near the hospital!"
I wasn't 'exactly' talking about the hospital. I was... OOPS! Never mind!"
"Excuse me. Is there a Doctor Hannibal Albright here?"
"Yes, that's me. Who are you and how did you get into the restricted wing?"
"I'm Harry, from Speedy Delivery. The nurses at the front desk sent me up. I've got that shipment you ordered outside."
"Shipment? What shipment? I didn't order anything."
"It's right here in black and white. Six young breeding age male Rana castesbeiana, a twenty gallon aquarium, and miscellaneous supplies. Deliver to Mercy Medical, sixth floor, Herpetology ward. Two hundred and sixty four credits plus tax. Prepaid. Visa. Dr. Hannibal Albright."
"Put it over by the window and plug in the heater, Harry. And did you remember to bring the blood worms and crickets?"
"Over here, Harry. Yes, look over here. Yep, that's me! The lizard bobbing his head inside the cage."
"Well? Did you set up the tank and bring the food like I asked?"
"Ah... yes. All done. But Mr. Thompson, the pet store owner, he was wondering about that. Why'd you want an extra large breeder's setup if you weren't going to buy any females?"
"Excellent! Don't worry about that. She'll be arriving shortly."
"Only one? Six males and only one female? That's gonna be one overworked little froggy!"
"You got that right! But you can go now... and please give yourself a fifteen percent tip off that same card, Harry. Good work!"
"Thanks! Any time!"
"Stop! You can't do this!"
"What's the matter?"
"I didn't order those disgusting things!"
"You'll have to take it up with Mr. Thompson. I'm just the delivery guy. 'Bye!"
"You! You! You! How did you...?! How in Hell did you get my card number!?"
"You've probably noticed that I'm a lizard! Just look at these eyes! I'll most likely never be able to read again, but I know the shapes for the numbers one through 9. I simply memorized your card from across the room when you ordered that pizza last week."
"But why? Why in Hell would you order a bunch of frogs! And why would you use 'my' credit card?!"
"Oh. They're not for me, doc. They're for you! I hate frogs! So slimy! Yuck! I much prefer the crunchy stuff. You know... roaches, beetles, mice, and on and on..."
"For me? What am 'I' going to do with all those of bullfrogs?!"
"Recreation, mostly... and a bit of company. It gets real lonely being locked up all by yourself."
"Ow, my aching head! Now I've gotta go return these thing, and get 'you' boxed up for shipping. I hope the airline sends you to the North Pole by mistake!"
"The North Pole? I like that! I really enjoy your sense of humor, doc! We're going to be the best of friends, you and I!"
"Friends?! Just you wait until... ah!"
"What's the matter, doc? You don't look so good."
"My stomach is killing me! And my feet feel even worse!"
"Why don't you close the door and use the sink back there? I'm not going anywhere. I'll be here after you freshen up."
"Man, you're soaked! Feeling better?"
"A little. I don't know what came over me. As soon as I touched the water I started to splash it all over!"
"Maybe you should get out of those wet clothes."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?! As soon as I'm buck naked you'd press the button to call a nurse!"
"I just love the way your mind works, doc! But no, 'that' particular thought didn't cross my mind... much. I was just trying to help. You look a bit chilly."
"Sure you didn't! I'll just sit down and take off my wet sneekers before I walk back to the office."
"It's-not-easy-being... greeeeen! The color of the... leaves!"
"What's the matter doc? That shade is certainly your color."
"My feet! They're green!"
"Of course they are... and your toes are getting webbed too."
"MY FEET ARE GREEN!!!"
"You already said that! What you expect? I've yet to see a purple female bullfrog."
"A... bullfrog? A...FEMALE BULLFROG!!! AUUUUGGGHHH! MY STOMACH!!!"
"That'll be the eggs, I imagine."
"Eggs? What... what are you saying...? How could you know...?"
"Liver and onions. Fried chicken and garlic bread. Caesar salad with olive oil vinaigrette. Beef ribs with honey barbecue..."
"YOU DID THIS TO ME!!!"
"I'm a lizard, doc. Not a miracle worker. You know better than that. No one can 'give' the Martian Flu to anyone... or catch it directly for that matter. I just happened to detect a certain 'amphibian' scent when I tasted you a couple days ago."
"You'll feel better if you squat down, Doctor Albright. Take it from me, it doesn't pay to fall down when your bones are changing shape. That's right. Just tuck your legs and arms closer to your body and lie down on your stomach."
"That's... better, but now I can't MOVE!!!"
"That's normal. Try to relax. It'll be over soon. It always takes a while for the central nervous system to adapt."
"Why... didn't... you...? Why... didn't... you... tell... me?!"
"Tell you what? That you'd be turning into a bullfrog in a couple of days? And a highly fertile female one too? Would you believe me? Not likely!
What's the point! Sure, you've pissed me off in the past, but no one deserves that! Would you 'really' want to be told that your days as a human were numbered? There's not a damned thing you, or anyone else, could've done about it anyway."
"Ribbit. Ribbit? Ribbit!!!!"
"Well, there go the vocal cords! Probably a bit of the old brain too. Doc? Yo, Doc! Can you understand me? Croak one for 'no', twice for 'yes'.
"Ah, good. I haven't lost my audience yet! Hummm... you're sure getting small fast! And just look at those eyes! You're just gonna drive the boys wild in that aquarium! It's a real shame won't be able to enjoy all that stolen money... is it?"
>Yo! Nurse! Anyone out there? We've got a situation in here!<
<Mr. Goodyear! You know better than to yell into the voder-comm! What's the matter? The plug fall out of your heater again?>
>Nope. One of the animal companions just jumped out of her tank! She'll dry up an die if you don't get her back inside soon!<
<I'LL BE RIGHT THERE!>
"Where is she?"
"Look under those clothes Doctor Albright left over there."
"Here she is! My, she's a big one! Where does she belong?"
"Over by the window. See that aquarium that's half full of water?"
"In ya' go! And stay there!"
"Do you know where the glass top is, Mr. Goodyear? We certainly don't want to be doing this every day."
"Look behind the tank. That's were they normally keep 'em."
"Holy cow... they sure don't waste time, do they?! Which one these frogs is the patient?"
"I'm not too sure. I 'think' it's that big male on top that's fertilizing the female's eggs. Doctor Albright admitted him this afternoon. He bought all the rest from a pet store to keep him company. He's a hopeless case I'm afraid. If you need to know anything else, you'll need to ask the doc."
"Where is, Doctor Albright? It's not like him to leave his clothes on the floor."
"It's a secret. He told me not to tell anyone!"
"Really? How about if I give you a nice juicy roach?"
"Nope! I promised!"
"Very well... my final offer: A big juicy roach now, and I'll bring you a mouse for supper tonight."
"GIVEME! GIVEME! GIVEME!!!!" CRUNCH!!!
"That was good! Don't forget that mouse!"
"Of course not. What were you going to tell me about Doctor Albright?"
"You won't tell anyone I told you?"
"You have my word."
"Check the hospital financial records. You'll see that he's been siphoning money from the Herp ward for years! Where ya' think he got all that fancy car and house on 'his' salary? Mercy Medical isn't rich ya' know!"
"I see... And the clothes?
"He came in about an hour ago. He was mumbling something about Federal agents and South America. He changed his clothing and climbed down the fire escape. That's the last time I saw of him."
"I never liked that guy! Thank you, Mr. Goodyear. You've done your fellow patients a great service."
"You won't forget my mouse?"
"No... I won't forget! I've got to make a few phone calls. See you later! Goodbye!"
"Well, I've done my good deed for today. Time to take a snooze on my rock!"
>Computer... shut down.<
Dictation mode still active. Save changes or delete?
"Drat! The damn thing is still recording!"
>End dictation.... Erase all after...'The End'. Save file. Verify.<
All after 'The End' has been erased. File has been saved.
>Computer... shut down.<
Shut down sequence begun
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